By Mbongeni Mguni, Mmegionline | June 22, 2020
With warnings that the country’s rhinos could be wiped out within two years, the poaching crisis targeting the iconic species has forced government to start dehorning the remaining herds.
“The dehorning exercise will combat poaching and safeguard the future of this species,” the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism said in a statement on its social media on Monday.
“This exercise was prompted by the surge in rhino poaching over the past few years.”
The ministry said at least 56 rhinos had been poached in the last two years, a number almost unprecedented in the country’s history.
Since April last year, the country has been losing up to two rhinos per week, prompting government to issue a rare admission last October that the frequency would wipe out the beasts in “one or two years”.
The crisis echoes Botswana’s worst rhino poaching period in 1992 when the country’s black rhino population was wiped out while white rhinos declined to just 27.
Department of Wildlife and National Parks, principal veterinary officer, Mmatli Reuben said the dehorning exercise would be accompanied by intensified anti-poaching activities.
“Removing a huge chunk of the horn must disincentivise poaching, but we are also upping our anti-poaching,” he said in a video distributed on social media by government this
week, alongside its statement on the dehorning.
“The message that rhinos have been dehorned must be spread far and wide.”
The dehorning exercise comes as sources in the Okavango Delta, where nearly all of the wild rhino population lives, indicate that the numbers there have dwindled. The sources said the rhinos that have not been poached have been dehorned and most moved away from the Delta into private sanctuaries in the centre of the country.
“The Delta is a poaching hotspot, with syndicates operating from Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe using the waterways and loose border patrol to hunt down the rhinos,” one of the sources said.
This week, wildlife experts told Mmegi the dehorning exercise may not prove as strong a disincentive as government believes.
“Poachers have been known to kill dehorned rhinos in order to limit the chances of tracking an animal for days only to find out it is dehorned.
“A translocation programme is more effective; to get the remaining rhinos away from the Delta and to safety, where breeding programmes can slowly rebuild the numbers,” the expert said.